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Down But Not Out by Tasha

More of a ficette ...

How had she let is come to this--she should have killed him weeks ago. Now it was too late, her weakness had destroyed them all, they were all going to die. Buffy's head hurt where he'd knocked her unconscious, and her wrists ached in the hard steel of the manacles, but no pain could equal that in her heart. If only she hadn't loved him quite so much she might have been able to destroy the monster which delighted in her crumbling will, but he still wore the face she carried in her heart. He wasn't her Angel, but he wasn't different enough to let her separate the two.

Angelus stood before her an evil smile on his face and she barely had the courage to look back.

"Had enough of the game, Buffy?" he asked and laughed at her.

"Go to hell, creep," she spat back with the last of her resolve.

"Oh, but we've just got to the fun bit," he returned as if he was talking about nothing more than a hand of poker. "This idea just came to me, and I knew it was perfect. Tell me, what did you think that first night when Willow disappeared?"

She just glared at him, he would not get the last satisfaction from her, not yet. Her defiance seemed to please him and he laughed again.

"You're strong, I'll give you that," he said calmly, "but the end game is upon us. Did you know you're going to beg me to kill you, you're going to actually ask me to do it. Of course I'll oblige, but I don't think we'll let you have peace. Spike's been getting just a little jealous over Dru lately," the vampire continued, "and I want a new playmate."

Buffy bit her lip and forced back the tears.

"I brought them all here for you, Buffy," Angelus continued with a manic grin, "and I'm going to go through them one by one. They're going to die, and you're going to watch until you ask me to take you instead. The Slayer will be gone from this pitiful town, and then we can have some real fun."

Giles had given her the speech about how she was the most important, that she had to live, had to strive to survive and slay the vampires. That had been the afternoon before he was taken, the afternoon before her world had finally come crashing down as her last two friends seemed to vanish off the face of the earth. There were all here-- Giles, Xander, Willow, Cordelia, Oz, even Jenny. He'd stalked them one by one, no matter how Buffy tried to protect them he had found a way through, and now they adorned the walls like so much meat. Two only person she had been able to save was her mother who was chasing a piece of non-existent art across the country.

Angel had strung them from chains hung from the tops of the walls in a sick imitation of art. What he'd done to them other than that Buffy couldn't be sure, but they were all standing there like zombies. They reacted to nothing, and it appeared that the chains were more of a joke than anything else.

"Come a little closer and I'll show you how far the Slayer is gone," where the courage came from Buffy could never say, but she had to hang on to something.

For all she knew her friends were already dead, like Jessie had been, and this was all just part of the game. Would they all suddenly come to life and reveal their true faces, would that be the final push towards insanity? Maybe if she could get free, if she could just pull the chains from the wall she could save them, or at least destroy the monster that held them.

Her thoughts were all muddled, and ideas flowed through her mind like rain. She knew she was on the verge of panic.

"The Watcher I think," Angelus said, ignoring her outburst completely, "the meddling librarian."

In front of Buffy's terrified gaze he walked over to where Giles stood. With a flick of his wrist he released the restraints on the Englishman and just stared at the empty face for a while.

"I think I prefer him like this," the vampire finally decided. "Come watcher, there's not a very good view from over here."

Buffy had never realised quite how powerful a vampire Angelus was, not until she watched her mesmerised friend follow the fiend meekly to the centre of the room. The Master had been old and powerful, but it wasn't age that gave this demon his power, it was the total maliciousness he held, the fact that he was completely evil.

Giles stopped facing Buffy, his face as empty as glass, and Angel walked behind him.

"Are you ready, love," the vampire asked and ran one claw down Giles' neck, "ready to watch your friend's die."

Fangs bared he slowly lowered his mouth towards the librarian's neck, and it was as if the world was going in slow motion for Buffy. She wanted to be strong, she wanted to break free and save her friends, but the steel was hard against her skin. Under the force of the reality her will crumbled.

"No," she screamed at the top of her lungs and the tears she'd been trying so hard to hold back began to flow. "No," she sobbed, "please no."

Angelus was actually looking a little surprised when he brought his demon eyes up to meet her gaze. His animalistic features faded and left the facade of humanity in their place.

"So soon my love?" he said, walking out from behind his victim and wandering towards Buffy. "I had expected you to last out longer than this."

The stress had been eating at Buffy ever since that first moment she knew Angel was gone. It had been building, and over the last week it had burrowed itself into the deepest recesses of her mind. The Slayer truly was on the edge, and she couldn't bare it anymore.

"Don't hurt them," she pleaded as if it would do some good, "take me but don't hurt them."

She felt his fingers on either side of her face, and he pulled her chin up slowly. His face was serious for once, almost contemplative.

"You really think they will leave here alive," he said quietly. "If you give yourself to me you think I will let them live?"

It seemed to be a genuine question. She just gazed into his eyes for a moment and knew that whatever the truth was, she couldn't face it.

"Please," was all she could say.

A smile slowly broke on his face, and there was all the evil there, but as Buffy watched she could see a strange kind of love. She had surrendered, she had given up the fight, and he revealed in his victory, and yet he did love her. As his features shifted back to their demonic form the pain stabbed at her heart as she remembered the Angel she had lost, but she could still look at him. Very slowly he bent his head towards her and she held her breath in anticipation.

"You know I've been waiting a long time for this," the voice came from behind Angelus and Buffy didn't believe her ears.

Suddenly the vampire holding her was grabbed from behind and went flying across the room. Buffy forgot to breathe as she saw who had rescued her, and her mind screamed that she could not possibly be seeming this. There in front of her was Angel, the real Angel. He was dressed in old fashioned clothes, and his hair was slightly longer than his vampiric counter part. As she gaped, Buffy realised that she was seeing the man that had been before the vampire, and he smiled at her.

"Hold on," he said quietly and then turned to where he'd thrown Angelus. "You know you were on the right track keeping Buffy out of the loop, just going after her friends. You have no idea how hard it was trying to get you to go with this plan, actually making you go for Buffy directly."

Angelus was looking confused and angry.

"Oh I've been around since Valentine's day," Angel explained to his counterpart, "but I couldn't do anything, not until you were about to kill Buffy. You shouldn't listen to little voices in your head, they're bad--I learnt that a long time ago."

That tipped the vampire over the edge and he launched himself at the human form, pushing Giles' still figure from the centre of the room as he did. The librarian went sprawling towards the wall and Angelus passed straight through Angel.

"Neat trick isn't is," Angel said as his opponent came to a skidding halt, "you see I'm only solid when I want to be."

The vampire turned and Angel threw a right hook. There was supernatural strength behind the blow and for the second time Angelus took a trip through the air.

Buffy mind still wasn't quite sure she wasn't just hallucinating, but Angel's words stuck in her thoughts, and she used them to pull back her scattered sanity. She anchored on her love for the man before her and she didn't let doubt even begin to form.

"Your not going to hurt anyone else," Angel stated firmly as Angelus picked himself up, "I want my body back and I'm going to take it. No gypsy curses, no charms, no spells, just you and me."

The vampire actually laughed.

"You can't beat me," he said positively, "this body is mine and you'll never have it back."

"Eighty years ago you'd have been right," Angel returned, "a human soul is no match for a demon, not without a little help, but I've been fighting you for a long time. I'm not exactly what you would call a normal soul anymore. If I was I definitely wouldn't be here."

Angelus still smiled.

"Then come, little man," he said coldly and beckoned to his adversary, "come and meet your end."

Buffy saw Angel smile at the invitation and he walked towards the vampire.

"Just one thing I think I should do first," he said as they were nose to nose and he snapped his fingers.

The chains dropped off Buffy's wrists, and off those of her friends. Willow fell over, and the Slayer realised that her companions were no longer under Angelus' influence. She saw Xander move to catch Cordelia, and Oz was dazedly trying to help Willow. Nobody seemed particularly aware of their surrounding, but Buffy couldn't move to help them as her attention fixed on both versions of Angel.

The vampire reached out and grabbed his adversary, and this time his claws found a hold. Angel responded in kind and the two were locked together.

"Mine," Angel said with total commitment and pushed Angelus against the wall.

The demon snarled, "Never," he spat back.

It was the strangest fight Buffy had ever seen and she knew that more was going on than she could perceive. The two combatants were stuck in a strange pose as strength battled against strength, holding them in a peculiar wrestling stance.

"You can't win, demon," Angel hissed at his opponent, "my will is stronger than yours."

"Delusions never helped anyone," Angelus replied with a feral smile, and as if to prove his point he spun them round, ready to slam Angel into the wall.

The plan would have worked except that Angel dissolved straight into the wall. The only thing the vampire achieved was skinning his own knuckles as he was forced to release the suddenly insubstantial individual. For a second it was as if Angel was gone, he disappeared into the wall completely, and there was no indication of where he had gone.

"You don't win that easily," Angel spoke as he stepped out of the brick a few feet from where he had entered.

His arms grabbed Angelus in a head lock and the vampire spat curses. This time when the demon spun into the wall Angel was solid and crashed into it as if he was a real person, but he didn't let go.

"You lose," he said in a voice that bore no argument.

Just for a moment the vampire believed those words and at that instant he was lost. Angel vanished completely, and Angelus screamed in pain and rage. The cry crescendoed and spiralled to an unnatural height and then is died completely. Angel or Angelus, whoever it was fell to the ground and didn't move.

Buffy didn't know what to do. She wanted to believe what she had seen, she really wanted it to be true, but she had to be sure. Her bag was lying in the corner where Angelus must have thrown it when he brought her in and she went to it slowly. She picked out a stake and with her heart in her mouth she walked over to the still vampire. Gingerly she pushed him onto his back and just looked down at him. She was totally focused, the sounds of her friends trying to figure out exactly what was going on barely registered on her at all.

After a few seconds the vampire moved, and with a groan he opened his eyes. He looked up at her as she stood over him, stake in hand, and she stared into his eyes and just knew.

"Remind me not to hit myself quite so hard," he said quietly.

"Angel," she cried in delight and then followed suit literally by bursting into tears.

She fell to her knees, and forcibly drew him off the floor into a fierce hug.

"Could someone please explain," she heard Xander say and couldn't help beginning to giggle.

It was a thin hysterical sound, but it was the closest she had come to a real laugh in a very long time.

The End